A large group of people cycled through the town of Vught last Friday. Accompanied by the Vught alderman for traffic, a council member and the senior traffic policy maker. Together they were on a tour to visit good and bad cycling infrastructure. At least good and bad in the eyes of this very specific group of people cycling: the elderly.
Dutch elderly people cycle a lot. There are more elderly than before and they cycle more often and also further. Sounds good, but it came with a price: more than half of all cycle deaths last year were people over the age of 65, an incredible figure! In 2012, 200 people cycling were killed in the Netherlands, but of those 200 no less than 108 were over the age of 65! It becomes even more mind-boggling when you consider that 60% of all bicycle crashes with serious injuries were single vehicle crashes. No motor vehicle, no other cyclists, not even a pedestrian was involved. Dutch elderly seem to just fall off their bicycles and they often sustain severe injuries or they even die.
Dutch traffic experts are trying to find out what the cause of this all is. And once the cause is known if they can do something about it.
Preliminary results point in several directions. As a group, the elderly are not involved in more accidents but they are more vulnerable. When something happens to them the consequences are more severe. Also the infrastructure seems to be a factor of significance. Junctions need to be very clear as the elderly generally cannot process too much sensory input at once. Wide and obstacle free cycle paths (including forgiving curbs) are best and they should be very well maintained. A smooth surface makes it easier to hold your balance.
Bicycles can be adapted to the special needs of elderly cyclists. A simple mirror can help when looking over the shoulder becomes more difficult. A low frame can make mounting and dismounting safer. The weight of especially e-bikes on the other hand can be an endangering factor.
In Vught, four organisations joined forces to investigate what the elderly in Vught themselves think are the dangerous locations for them. The Vught chapter of the Cyclists’ Union, the Vught chapter of the Catholic Union for the Elderly, and two smaller advisory bodies questioned elderly people. The results of the questionnaires were presented to the municipality last Friday. To make their points even better, the most mentioned “danger spots” were visited on the cycle tour.
The alderman for traffic Wilbert Seuren made clear that he is happy with all the information that becomes available, but not all traffic situations can be changed easily. Council member Brigit Cordes explained that she gladly took this opportunity to hear about the problems from representatives of this specific group of road users first hand. Marco Cruijssen, the senior traffic policy maker of the municipality was also clear. Infrastructure can be built according to the latest design specifications, but if a large group of road users singles out that piece of infrastructure as dangerous, you can either maintain that it is built correctly or you can try to figure out what you can do about it to make those people feel safer there.
It was interesting to see that people mentioned encounters with motor traffic as most dangerous. While the figures paint a different picture. It can very well be that what people perceive as the most dangerous situations for them are actually not the most dangerous situations at all. Most accidents with elderly happen while mounting and dismounting the bicycle and they have done that so often that they do not recognise that risk.
The group of elderly will further increase in the near future in the Netherlands. Especially the group of over 75s will grow. It is very important that it becomes better known what the Dutch can do to protect their elderly from the higher risks of injuries and death. Reason for the large-scale and in-depth investigations currently in process in the Netherlands.
My video about the cycle tour by elderly people in Vught.
Part of the investigations was also a tour to judge the surfaces of the (cycling) infrastructure of Vught. I wrote a blog post about that tour earlier.